Highlander Brew Co. of South River, Ontario recently introduced two specialty beers to complement their flagship Scottish Ale, a beer I considered one of my favourite new retail releases of 2012. I had a chance to sample both Twisted Spruce Ale and Blacksmith Smoked Porter, as well as speak with owner and brewmaster Brian Wilson about his brewery’s relatively brief history.
Brian Wilson established Highlander Brew Co. in 2009 using a long time appreciation of beer and the severance package he received after being laid off from his position with a large financial firm along with 20000 of his colleagues and relocating his family to northern Ontario.
2012 was a pretty good year in terms of both the quality and quantity of regularly-brewed Ontario craft beers hitting the shelves at one’s local LCBO or The Beer Store. I selected 12 of them to quantify as favourites, with a few caveats. First, the beers had to be listed at at least 25 retail outlets.
The beers had to be ones that I’ve published a review for, not just tried at a show or festival. Seasonal and one-off beers were not considered, I’ll try to make a list of those next. Re-branded or re-packaged beers were also not counted, however those that were previously available at a brewery’s retail store or at a licensee were. All that said, here are my selections in alphabetical order.
This Scottish ale from the Highlander Brew Company in South River, Ontario pours a fiery amber-ruby colour with a frothy light beige head that leaves a collar that sticks to your pint glass on its way down, giving off a cocoon-like lace effect. Highlander Scottish Ale smells mostly of caramel malts and mineral water, with bread crust and freshly cut grains as accents.
Highlander Scottish Ale tastes like tart, sour grains that have been toasted and sweetened with caramel or honey. Wood, light chocolate, cherry and cigar smoke can also be detected. The ale has a toasty, creamy and bready mouthfeel with a low amount of carbonation. It is syrupy and oily on the tongue in the finish, with a muffin-like aftertaste that has a hint of flowers.